With this reflection we enter fully into this season of expectation, which is the season of Advent. Not only is the spirit of expectation characteristic of this time, but also along with expectation comes another attitude that always goes along with the long wait, which is that of preparation. We all know that this season is a preparation for Christmas, when the somber violet of the liturgy gives way to the resplendent white of the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord, who assumed our humanity and “pitched his tent” among us (to relay the Semitic sense of the term “incarnation”). But along with this we must also keep in mind that we are preparing to celebrate not merely the yearly feast of the Lord’s coming in history among us as man; with this season the Church raises its eyes to the horizon of time, waiting for the Lord to return in glory. Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, as we profess in the Creed. Thus, Advent is a time of expectation and preparation not only for Christmas, when we celebrate the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh and dwelt among us, but at the same time it raises our eyes to the fact that the Lord will come again at the end of history, both our personal history (when we die and close our eyes to this temporal life) and that of this world (or that which we would call the Second Coming, the Parousía).
For the coming of such a great guest, we see the imperative obligation to prepare. We see in the First Reading, taken from the book of Isaiah, that the coming of the Holy One of Israel makes evident to us our own unworthiness and sinfulness. We are able to recognize that in our present state of heart we are unworthy of receiving the Lord into our midst because of the hardness of our hearts, because of our sinfulness, because of the filth that we have brought upon ourselves in deciding to stray away from him like so many sheep. O that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they have not heard of from of old. This distance that we have from the Lord due to our sins makes our human heart clamor all the more for His coming, knowing that it is restless until it rests in the Lord. This cry for the Lord’s presence is echoed in the Responsorial Psalm: Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved!
At this point it is evident that the purification of our lives is in order, if we are to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming. Among the early Christians, who looked forward with expectation for the Lord’s return, there was the consciousness that it was partly their sins that delayed His coming; this made them all the more conscious of the need for the purification of their hearts through penance and good works. This is something that we have to imitate and live in our day, especially this season of Advent. Aside from just looking forward to the parties and the bonuses that we would inevitably receive, the parties we would attend, the gifts we may receive, the expenses we would have to make in this generous season, over and above all we have to live this desire for purification, through penance and good works. Advent recollections made during this time of the year are good opportunities for us to live and increase this desire for the Lord’s coming in us; going towards the encounter with the Lord in the Sacrament of Penance is a great help, if not a must, for the Christian who wants to prepare himself or herself well. On the other hand, the practice of good works allows us to go beyond ourselves and our selfishness by living for others, combatting one of the greatest temptations that this season has for many of us: the secularist Christmas (if there is really such a term, it being a contradiction) insists that THE way to pass this season is to spend and indulge and to “live everything to the max” without a thought of what the mystery of the Incarnation really means: God divesting himself of glory before our eyes, so that we may be clothed with the richness of His mercy. It is part of the Christian’s ascetic struggle to combat this secularist and materialistic view of the season with one’s own struggle to respond to the perennial call to conversion and holiness.
In responding to this call one needs another quality of which the Lord in the Gospel for this Sunday exhorts us to have. Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the Lord of the House is coming. The Lord exhorts us to be perseveringly vigilant. One cannot separate these two concepts of vigilance and perseverance. One has to watch without losing heart, without ceasing. This is what it means to have a prayerful heart. A heart that prays because it loves does not desist from looking out into the horizon, expecting the object of its affection to come at any moment. St. Paul in the Second Reading, taken from the first letter to the Corinthians, assures us that it is the Lord himself who sustains us in the struggle to be watchful, prepared and expectant: in Jesus Christ we have been “enriched in every way…not lacking in any spiritual gift as we await for the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. To top it all, Paul says: he will keep you firm to the end.
So let us live this season of Advent, not with heads lowered to the things that keep us pressed to material things, but to stand up with raised heads, like what the Gospel says, awaiting the Lord’s coming into our lives, allowing His presence to purify us, strengthen our families, make justice flourish in our society. Amen! Come Lord Jesus!